Club América vs. Jaguares in Fresno: Fútbol Fervor
By DANIEL CASAREZ
Vida en el Valle/McClatchy News
(Published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 10:34AM)
FRESNO -- It was nothing more than an exhibition soccer match between Mexican first division clubs América and Jaguares de Chiapas.
That was underscored by the fact that the fabled Aguilas did not play some of their top players, like Ecuadorian striker Christian Benítez, the league's top scorer last season.
That mattered little to Agustín Rodríguez of Tulare and Miguel Torrez of Visalia.
Torrez shelled out $152 for 10th row seats for four family members, and to root against América, who has a 100-plus year reputation with 33 notable titles that include 14 in the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol (Mexican Soccer League) in a June 27 match at Chukchansi Park.
"Anything against América! I'll do anything against what América stands for," said Torrez, a fan of América's rival Chivas de Guadalajara.
Rodríguez, a 39-year-old truck driver, showed up as a loyal americanista.
"I follow América anywhere because they are the proudest team for our people," said Rodríguez.
Torrez and Rodríguez were not alone in their passion for Mexican soccer. They were among a record 16,600 who showed their enthusiasm for soccer.
That excitement -- the chants, smoke bombs, vuvuzuelas, drums, cymbals -- caught the attention of local media.
"This is what it feels like in México," said Rodríguez, who said he has seen Club América play at the famous Estadio Azteca in Santa Ursula, México City. Azteca Stadium, the home field of the Mexican National Soccer Team, El Tricolor, can seat over 100,000 fans.
The local spending -- approximately half a million dollars according to economic experts -- caught the attention of soccer promoters, who believe those matches can be duplicated more often in the San Joaquín Valley.
Such crowds are not uncommon. A 1994 World Cup tune-up match between México and Sweden drew 27,000 to Bulldog Stadium; and, a similar game between Brazil and Sweden that year attracted an untold number of fans.
"It took $300,000 to do this,' said Fred Godínez Jr., whose family-run business Latin Entertainment teamed with Univisión to bring the Águilas-Jaguares match to Fresno.
"We go into this sometimes not knowing what's on the other side; but, like I've said, I make it a goal, a challenge for us."
Godínez was hoping for 12,000 fans, but was pleasantly surprised. Two-thousand, standing-room-only tickets were released five hours before the kickoff. They were sold in 1½ hours.
International soccer matches, especially those from México, can be attractive draws in the Valley, where Latinos are the majority in five counties and more than 90 percent of them are of Mexican descent.
Another attraction is lower promotion costs compared to major markets like Los Angeles or the Bay area.
But there are some risks.
The lack of abundant international flights often forces promoters to fly the teams to Los Ángeles, and bus them to Fresno.
Another consideration is the venue: Fresno State University has converted Bulldog Stadium to artificial turf, something most soccer players avoid. That does not leave many other venues large enough to make it economically feasible to host big-name teams.
"We shoot for being able to go to larger stadiums and keep the prices low," said Godínez, who made sure families did not go broke paying for the match and offered kid's tickets for $10. "The larger you go in volume, the cheaper you can get tickets."
For future matches, Godínez prefers a weekend date with premier teams like América or Chivas. But first, he said, the venue must be able to handle the capacity.
José 'Chato' Elgorriaga -- a star goalkeeper for his father's powerhouse soccer teams at Fresno State in the late 80s and early 90s -- is familiar with the local thirst for soccer.
"I have to say, the (June 27 Chukchansi match) not only did it have the fervor and the flair of a real match being played in México, it was great. It was exciting," said Elgorriaga, general manager at KFTV Channel 21 Univisión.
Elgorriaga had a hand in landing the 1994 international matches at Bulldog Stadium.
"We had some excitement," he said.
América head coach Miguel Herrera would love to bring his first-string team to Fresno. He coached Monterrey, the Rayadaos, in a 2006 friendly match against Cruz Azul that drew 14,000 to Sacramento's Raley Field. The following Herrera led the Rayados to a friendly against England's Preston North End.
"We would love to come back here to the Valley, but it would take talking to the promoters. I was very happy to see the response from the support for our country," said Herrera, who watched his team lose 2-0 to Chiapas. "The stands were filled with americanistas."
The fans -- about 90 percent of them clad in América's blue-and-yellow gear -- didn't appear to be disappointed with the outcome or not seeing top players like Benítez and Colombian defender Aquivaldo Mosquera.
Jaguares coach José Guadalupe Cruz noticed that.
"It's only the preseason, but it feels like real competition here," he said. "I, we came here to respond to the support of the fans, and I'm happy to bring the team here again.
"I'm not sure if it will be Fresno again, but the Valley, yes. You have to take advantage of opportunities like these."
Godínez said plans are underway for future soccer matches in the Valley. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interes en fútbol
International soccer matches in the San Joaquín Valley have drawn plenty of fan support (winning score next to winner).
Feb. 24, 1974: México (2-1) vs. Sweden at Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
Feb. 19, 1997: México (1-1) vs. Guatemala at Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
June 28, 2011: Jaguares de Chiapas (2-0) vs. Águilas de América, Fresno Chukchansi Park.
July 26, 2007: Monterrey Rayados (2-0) vs. Preston North End (England), Sacramento Raley Field.
July 13, 2008: Cruz Azul (1-1) vs. Tigres, Sacramento Raley Field
Sept. 6, 2000: Cruz Azul (1-0) vs. Águilas de América, Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
Sept. 27, 1987: University of San Francisco (1-0) vs. Fresno State, Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
July 17, 2002: Atlas (3-0) vs. Chivas de Guadajalara, Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
April 8, 2001: Chivas (2-1) vs. Fas (El Salvador), Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium.
July 13, 2006: Orange County Blue Stars (3-2) vs. Fresno Fuego, Fresno Chukchansi Park.